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I See You and Holly Coming Home, by Rebecca Ness © The artist. Courtesy Nino Mier Gallery, Los Angeles

The unusually cold, rainy autumns of 1917 and 1918 discouraged mallards from migrating beyond Europe, where they transmitted H1N1 to humans and worsened the influenza pandemic. Reindeer herders discovered an Ice Age bear revealed by melting permafrost, and isotopic evidence suggested that millions of mummified sacrificial ibises in Egypt were wild-caught rather than priest-farmed. Pulp-cavity closure ratios of canine teeth were found to be a reliable way to estimate the age at death of dogs found at Ust’-Polui, and evidence that women used their teeth as basketry or weaving tools suggested a gendered division of labor in Bronze Age Argaric culture. Hominids living 1.7 million years ago may have boiled their food in hot springs. Scientists announced the discovery of giant sperm inside a female ostracod trapped in Burmese amber. Egyptian veterinary surgeons palpating an Arabian stallion’s penis discovered a stone. Goats are able to produce sperm via donor testicles, and ten species of hillstream loach were found to share the cave angel fish’s hefty pelvic girdle, arousing suspicion that they might be able to walk. King Canute’s sumptuous silken burial clothes have been stolen.

Little earthquakes have increased as the Indian Ocean warms. Sea urchin grazing, caused by the disappearance of the Aleutian otter, was contributing to the decline of Alaskan reefs and kelp forests. A Cuvier’s beaked whale set a new mammalian diving record of three hours and forty-two minutes. Tasmanian devils were reintroduced to mainland Australia. Analysis of the labradoodle genome revealed a predominance of poodle. Male baboons with female friends live longer, large groups of mountain gorillas maintain simpler relationships, and baby tortoises are attracted to faces from birth. Ketamine is good for a lazy eye. Danish scientists invented a safer method of fermenting camel milk. Postoperative transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the tibial nerve reduces the time it takes for patients who have undergone a partial colectomy to fart again. A study found that weighted blankets reduce insomnia, although one participant was made anxious by the heavy blanket and withdrew. Post-COVID dreams have been worse for men than for women. The death of a pet was likelier to increase psychopathology in boys than in girls. The Berlin Patient died of cancer. A Massachusetts man who ate a bag and a half of licorice a day died of glycyrrhizic acid poisoning. Mutant tomatoes demonstrated rewired fruiting via gibberellin activity. Logorrhea is increased in recreational users and decreased in the mildly intellectually disabled by, respectively, the synthetic cannabinoid 5F-MDMB-PICA and the GABAergic drug Gamalate B6.

The British government announced that Dounreay, a site where a shaft was filled with radioactive material until it exploded in 1977, could reopen in 2333. Volcanic ash deposited in the sea can act as a carbon sink. Climate change was disrupting the Very Large Telescope. Jupiter’s moons may be warming one another, salt and hot water were detected around two young stars, and phosphine was detected in the clouds of Venus. Planets made of diamond are unlikely to be habitable. The trans-Neptunian object Arrokoth, also known as Ultima Thule, has changed shape significantly in the past. A binary pair of trans-Neptunian objects were found to occult each other. An Earth-size planet was found circling a small, cold star with a year lasting 3.14 days; a giant, possibly habitable planet was observed orbiting a dying white dwarf; and a survey of thirty countries across six continents found that red is consistently associated with both love and anger.


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December 2020